Here it is again, the day of love. If you're planning on celebrating by curling up in front of a cozy fire, go ahead – Valentine's Day only comes once a year. But when the ashes cool, remember that romantic old-fashioned fireplaces can actually be taking the heat right out of your house.
Many Toronto homes are blessed with a fireplace that is both attractive and functional. While this adds charm to the home, fireplaces can serve to empty your house of heat, because warm air, seeking to rise, escapes up and out the chimney. This problem can be addressed by caulking around the fireplace and hearth to prevent air leaks. You can also cut air loss by improving the seal of the flue damper or by installing glass doors or an insulated fireplace cover.
Once the fire is burning, the heat loss situation can be even worse. As warm air leaves through the chimney, cool, dry air is being drawn into the lower areas of the house. You can consider turning down the thermostat, before lighting your fire, so the furnace won't labour to warm up air that is going to be lost up the chimney. You could also build a smaller blaze to minimize the air-drawing effect.
Fireplaces also need a properly fitted screen during use to prevent sparks from flying out of the fireplace into the living area. The screen, however, prevents as much as 30 per cent of the heat from entering the room. To get the heat without sacrificing safety, stand the fire screen slightly away from the opening of the fireplace. This allows the heated air to flow freely over the top of the screen.
Be sure before you make use of your fireplace that it is suited for wood burning, and is in proper functioning order. Many older homes in Toronto are fitted with coal burning fireplaces that are generally smaller than standard fireplaces, and may not be suitable for wood-burning.
Older fireplaces can also be retrofitted to make them much more efficient. Retrofit techniques include providing a duct to draw in outside air for combustion, and installing firebacks or tube grates which boost heat output. Major improvement in heating performance can also be achieved by installing an airtight wood stove or a fireplace insert. While altering the look of your fireplace, these units can provide more than five times as much useful heat as a standard fireplace.